Race specific AIDS vaccine?

AIDS vaccine shows promise in blacks and Asians

There has been a lot discussion, here on SD, debunking the concept of race. I was looking at CNN today and came across the above article.

Does this seem to suggest that race is a real concept?

What are your thoughts?

Ethnicity is a valid concept. That people from different geographical areas have different genetic characteristics is demonstrably true. That there might be a genetic characteristic amongst those of eg. northern European descent which hampers the action of a vaccine is perfectly possible.

The problem with “race” is that it arbitrarily lumps people with a single, specific characteristic together under a useless umbrella word such as “black”. If “race” is used to mean “ethnicity” then such use should be made explicitly clear, and it should be noted that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such “races” occur, none of which are “pure”.

From the article:

Based on this statement, it appears that the tests were conducted in the U.S., only. That would suggest that diet and general health and lifestyles may have played a part (given that there are some cultural differences among different ethnic groups). The reference to “nonwhite volunteers other than Hispanics” seems to indicate cultural, rather than genetic identification and the lack of figures for whites indicates that we don’t (yet) know if whites had reduced rate of 60% or 15%, only that it was “less” than 67%.

Without actual numbers and a follow-up to see if they can be reproduced, I don’t think that we can draw any conclusions from this study, yet.

Actually you can get more detailed results at the vacine company’s website.


Whites were by far the largest group studied and the overall reduction was only 3.8%, so it’s obvious that the vacine had little to no effect on whites.

Also, considering the fact that HIV is a fairly adaptive retrovirus, I could easily see part of the statistic being explained by the group all having a similar form of HIV which responded to the particular antivirals than another group.

The important thing, especially in studies, is to remember that correlation does not always equal causation.

Re: Race and this study. The sample size for minorities was just too small to draw any sort of concrete conclusion. The difference could just as easily be lifestyle, geographic location, risk factors, or even chance.

Besides, the study wasn’t designed to ask the question: “Do certain races do better with this HIV vaccine?” This is an incidental finding of very uncertain cause and significance.

You must be careful when analyzing the results from vaccine trials. If a person knows they are going to be receiving a vaccine (or thinks they will), their behavior may change significantly. They may increase high-risk activities, thinking they are protected. On the other hand, their interaction with researchers may elicit more healthy behaviors, especially if they are reminded of the possibility that they’ve received a placebo.

Relative to the total sample number, the number of black subjects if pretty low, increasing the likelihood that these people share a similar strain of the virus, and thus increasing the chance of coherence in their responses.

Also, chances are there’s a lot of variation in the “white” pool, since this is a pretty heterogenous group.

Sounds like another one of the white man’s lies =P (is that quote from the movie PCU?)

No, actually blacks have more MHC classes than any other ethnicity, which (WAG coming) ‘may’ be why they took to this vaccine better than others.

I meant variation in responses, not variation at the molecular level.

It is obvious that people who share a common ethnic background will often share many genetic similarities. If an Irish person needed a bone marrow transplant, he would have more luck finding a match in Western Europe than in East Asia.

The problem with “race” is that there are no absolute boundaries between different groups. The four groups designated in this report are based more on culture and geographical origin than any traditionally assigned biological racial groups (i.e. Caucasoid, Negroid, Mongoloid).

A textbook example of genetic differences among races is sickle cell anemia. In the United States it is often described as a “black disease”, as most American sufferers are African-American. But while the gene for sickle cell anemia is widely found in West Africa, it is not common to much of East Africa - whose people would be identified as “black” by Americans as well. The area for this particular trait, or “cline” is also found among some “white” populations of the Mediterranean, and in South Asia as well. A “white” Greek or an “Asian” Indian* may be more at risk of carrying sickle cell than a “black” Tanzanian.

I suspect whatever genetic factors (if any) that affect this AIDS trial vaccine are similar - they do not really follow any clear “racial” lines, but clines that tend to involve one American ethnic group more than others. It is likely that the sample is from a particular area where a certain strain of the HIV virus predominates.

(*…and would a native of India be considered “Asian” or “white” in such a study?)